Monday, August 29, 2011

Let us eat cake

Oooheer it's been a while since I've blogged. Or visited a blog.

Somehow the last few weeks of the Swiss summer holidays has taken over and any time left has either found Sapphire on the computer skyping or me too tired to bother.

And that's not a bad thing. We've just hit the 'three month mark' and it finds us in pretty good shape. A few more French words and phrases are in the repertoire thanks to two 1-hour lessons a week; the tram timetables are now very familiar and the apartment, whilst still most appropriately described as 'Minimalist meets 1970s perfectly preserved' feels like home.

But there are some things, in these remaining few days before Sapphire starts her new school, that I'll never get used to.

Are you ready?

..... because it's not always pretty. The Swiss may have a reputation for being serious and spotless but there seems to be a widely accepted exception to this rule.

The loophole applies only to men who use public transport. It is in this situation that they are allowed to openly and languidly pick their noses. They do not do this furtively or with any sense of shame, hiding behind a newspaper or fluffed up hanky; no - Sapphire and I have seen far too many examples of blokes entertaining themselves for the duration of their journey by thoroughly investigating the contents of what they fished out of their nostrils with their pointer fingers. One man's face looked as though he had frenzied eels swimming under his sinuses he was mining so hard.....

Sapphire was almost in danger of breaking the code of silence when she gasped in shock one morning. A young, well-dressed business man, maybe late twenties, had had enough of inspecting the glistening globule resting on top of his left digit and flicked it away. The offending object splatted against the glass partition in front of us.

We both reeled back in horror and distaste yet his blank expression did not change.

I blame the lack of cake for this travesty.

You see, it is impossible to buy self-raising flour anywhere in Geneva. Plain flour yes, and apparently you can - if the phase of the moon is right, the gods of bureaucracy and importation are smiling in their raclettes and all opportunities for setting off fireworks have temporarily been suspended - find some baking powder.

But clearly it is a task that causes most people to give up in despair and settle for eating tarts. Yes, tarts. Now, tarts are perfectly fine to eat and look rather good with glistening slices of apple or big spoonfuls of fresh berries ladled on but not every day, every meal or on every bloody counter of every cafe as their 'dessert selection'. They're the only sweetish thing available in bakeries, cafes or supermarkets apart from meringues and brownies with the appearance and consistency of roof tiles. I quickly found my heart sinking at the sight of them and kept hankering for a slice of cake. Any kind of cake; even the dry old sliced Balfours 'teacake' rectangles that nannas buy from woolies. Hell, a mere muffin would do.

I decided to search for this much-discussed but seldom seen baking powder.

It doesn't come in tins like in Australia but sachets.

Of course those sachets are written only in French and German, so one day I danced home in what was surely a victory stance to find my dictionary only to discover that I'd found yeast instead.

Then powdered gelatine.

And something called Raffermissuer. *sigh*

I then heard that desperate expats have been known to drive over the border to France to find it at the obscenely overpriced Jim's UK Foods for Overpaid and Exceedingly Homesick UN Diplomats Shop (or something like that). Seeing as we don't have a car and are still getting over the fact that the only red meat we can afford is 'hackfleisch' mince that has 'trois meats' that aren't named, it wasn't likely.

I'll keep on searching because the last thing I want to witness is Love Chunks blending in as a local undertaking a big-thumbed booger hunt on the number 16 tram.....


Lidian said...

I had no idea either about the nose-mining - or the lack of cake (the things I learn from reading blogs, especially most excellent ones like yours, Kath)...I can't imagine why either of those things should be. The Swiss are surrounded, are they not, by cake-producing nations? Is this part of some odd culinary neutrality thing?

I remember missing muffins in England while eating a so-called blueberry muffin that was...not. But they do have excellent cake, of course.

We are also gearing up for school here. Packing up eldest for university - am feeling rather sad and weird as the date approaches...

Anonymous said...

I don't know of any cake producing nations around Switzerland. The French, Germans and Italians all only do tart.

Bloody tart.

I found a place that made chocolate cake - yes CAKE - and took one to work one day. My boss actually called her husband and he left his workplace and came around to get some. The rest of them looked like they'd just experienced an orgasm for the first time.

Elephant's Child said...

It puts 'Let them eat cake' into perspective doesn't it?

It is early here and I am about to play on the buses. I will admit to some trepidation after your excavations story. Will the men in Oz refrain (and just adjust themselves a lot) or will they prove us to be a multicultural society? Aaaaargh. Not good options.

Just the same, I am really pleased that you are sounding so much better.

Baino said...

Oh God it's bad enough sitting in traffic next to someone who's oblivious to the fact that the world can see them picking their nose in the privacy of their own vehicle. Never noticed that in Switzerland, nor the lack of cake. Although come to think of it, everything is rather tarty or gelatinous. I remember nice eclairs at Ivoire. Good luck on the hunt. If you do get over the border, France has a huge store called Leclerc (I think that's how you spell it) lots of cake.

Anonymous said...

I expect, nay know, quite a bit of that happens on Melbourne's number 16 tram. Why not buy some baking powder over the net or get someone to send you some. I brought a specific brand back from a holiday in NZ for a friend. Customs found it interesting, but no real bother. How is you supply of Vegemite going anyway?

Elisabeth said...

Great post, Kath, all though unsettling. Maybe we in Australia are more squeamish than the fastidiously clean Swiss or maybe this careless disregard for the sensibilities of others comes as a function of cleanliness first, the personal nose picking variety above the needs of the public aesthetic.

As for baking soda. Why not get some online? You must be able to buy it, or ask a friend to send you some sachets. How awful, never to be able to eat cake.

Vanessa said...

Baking powder in the mail! I could not live without choc brownies and raspberries and cream as my weekly treat (although I substitute sucrose with dextrose).
Nose picking in public - revolting.
Good luck for school Sapphire!

Cat J B said...

Oh my gosh, that's rather revolting, even my 6 yr old keeps that sort of thing private, though my 3 yr old loves to entertain the public with his delving when he thinks I'm not looking.

And, there is NOTHING like a good cake, tarts just don't cut it!

franzy said...

Ah, wonderful.

Your last few posts have been full self-doubt and even terror.

This one is about the niggle of not having any cake and the very familiar BftBs topic of bodily secretions.

I think everything's comin' up rrrosssessss .... ahhhh ...

Also - if I could just be a bit educatively pedantic here: cake? Why none?
Look where you are.
Look at what cake's made from.
Now tell me, have you ever seriously heard the phrase "The Rolling Wheat Fields of Switzerland"?
How is a country with no broad, irrigated planes to speak of going to foster a culture of sweetening up wheat-based carbohydrates?

Just saying.

Helen Balcony said...

At least with the nosemining Sapphire isn't likely to want to stay in Geneva forever with a boyfriend once your time there is up.

But the chocolate, Kath, the chocolate. How is the chocolate???

(Bad news over here. I had Tests. Blood sugar - borderline. Cholesterol - borderline. Chocolate eating severely curtailed. LE SIGH.)

w/v = ingenod

Jilly said...

Sounds like they have enough cake (from their noses - yuck!!). Now, I do like a tart, I have to admit - but I can understand your frustration. If I could I'd send you a big chunk of Hummingbird cake (with passionfruit cream cheese icing) as I know you are partial. I would also be looking for a good yeast bun - any of these around? xxx

River said...

Public nostril mining???

Email me your address and I'll send you some baking powder. A nice big packet. With a lemon chiffon cake recipe attached.

School will be starting soon over there? Sapphire will have a whole new set of friends to grow up with, hang out with.

The tart thing kind of explains my mum's fondness for apple pies.

WV:splurtic=the sound made by a booger hitting the window.
oh, now I'm shuddering....

Anji said...

Look for Levure Chimique or poudre à lever. In France it's sold in little sachets, try looking by the sugar or by dried fruit in the supermarket. Leclerc and Carrefour are the stores to visit for if you get over the border. And if you do you'll have to try a gateau moelleux au chocolat

Kath Lockett said...

Lidian it perplexes me that 'SR' doesn't feature in their flour but flour in every other guise does. I have never seen such a reliance on fresh bread, for example but slathering it with honey doesn't a cake make... :(

Anonymous see? Maybe we should set up a cake shop and really jazz up their lives!

Thanks EC. Aussie men aren't really known for public nose diving, are they? Farting and belching yes, but nasal-related activities seem best left to the shower....

Leclerc, Baino? It's now imprinted on my brain.

Andrew the vegemite is sitting there, barely used. Seeing as proscuitto is pretty much the only affordable sandwich filling along with the heavenly gruyere, the 'ol V has been neglected!

And never fear, I think I did finally find some tiny sachets of baking powder. If not, I'll order some over the net and risk arousing the suspicious of Customs.

Elisabeth, I could accept the 'fastidiously clean' bit if they didn't then *flick it* off in any general direction. And usually by such beautifully dressed and groomed men, too!

Thanks Vanessa - first day is tomorrow and all books, stationery and several new outfits are ready. Plus a surprise that we'll give her tonight........

CatJB, the fact that your youngest is three excuses me but seeing twenty to sixty year olds doing it - distract them with cake!

Au contraire Monsieur Franzy - EVERYTHING here revolves around wheat - fresh bread every day (in varieties I've never heard of) is essential, as are all manners of croissants, pastries, pastas and tarts. But cake....? Why NOT?

Helen Balcony we can but hope that Sapphire continues to remember that potential suitors here are likely to be snot searchers as well. The chocolate - affordable and divine. Well the supermarket blocks are anyway. And I hear you about cholesterol - my last reading was 7.1!

No buns Jill, but plenty of croissants and bread rolls. Hummingbird cake is the stuff I dream of!

Thanks for the offer dear River, but I have since found the magic sachets and have purchased a large tupperware container in order to have my own stash of semi-precious SR flour. Cakes will soon feature in my future....

Anji you are spot on - 'poudre à lever' is what I found and I hope to visit Carrefour soon (we have a car in about two weeks' time).

nuttynoton said...

BOGIES and I thought it was a clean country - gross.
Wish Sapphire our best, she will make loads of new friends and that surprise intrigues?? you could be right about identifying a niche on the real cake shop but are the swiss ready for all that wonderful flavour and taste!

JahTeh said...

Vienna, how far away from Vienna and all its cafes and cakes? It would be worth the money to hire a car and load it with cakes to sell to other carb starved ex-pats.
And to think I was at Churro's again the other day tucking into some evil looking sugar loaded confection. I am ashamed that I enjoyed it so much not knowing how in misery you were.

franzy said...

Okay, you got me.

I'm all out of ideas!

Kath Lockett said...

Nutty - we gave her a Pandora bracelet with two charms on it. One of them was a letter for her first name and the other was Switzerland's biggest selling charm - a cow! It might mean something entirely hurtful in England but here they're celebrated :)

JahTeh, Vienna is on my list. Along with Milan, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Berne, London again.... But I will be baking a bit here at home too.

Franzy I never though I'd see you write that!

LJP said...

Eeew!! That's gross. It's weird to think about what you'd miss when you're away from Australia - I never realised how well stocked we were with cake. Perhaps you could trade it on the black market. Once people get a taste, they'll never go back to tarts!!

Red Nomad OZ said...

Oh, how uncivilised!! The booger-flicking too ...

But how clever of you to identify the tricky correlation between such behaviour and the absence of cake/SRF!!

Is there an entrepreneurial opportunity going begging here?? Show them how it's done and open up an Aussie Bakery!!!

Kath Lockett said...

LJP and Red Nomad - I'd love to 'manage' the idea of an Aussie bakery here but my cooking skills would certainly not be up to par. Good business idea though....

Unknown said...

I do find it interesting that it's socially acceptable to pick your nose. It must be, as with the flicking.

Oh my.

And as for baking powder... now it makes sense why they only do plain flour things...

I hope you get some cake soon. xx